Was it simply an homage? Or flat-out copying? The jury decided Tuesday it was the latter. That’s been the issue in the musically packed, big-money Los Angeles trial over the 2013 hit Blurred Lines.
Musicians Robin Thicke, Pharrell Williams and T.I. preemptively sued the family of late singer Marvin Gaye for a determination on whether their hit song was an infringement on the copyright for Gaye’s 1977 hit song, Got to Give It Up. Gaye’s family counter-sued.
On Tuesday, Gaye’s camp emerged victorious. The eight member jury voted unanimously that Thicke and song producer Williams had infringed on the 1977 Gaye song.
The jury awarded nearly $7.4 million to Gaye’s family. His children — Nona, Frankie and Marvin Gaye III — were present in court when the verdict was read.
Nona Gaye wept as the verdict was being read and was hugged by her attorney, Richard Busch.
“Right now, I feel free,” Nona Gaye said after the verdict. “Free from … Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke’s chains and what they tried to keep on us and the lies that were told.”
Williams issued a statement to USA TODAY via his spokesperson Amanda Silverman. “While we respect the judicial process, we are extremely disappointed in the ruling made today, which sets a horrible precedent for music and creativity going forward,” read the statement.”Pharrell created Blurred Lines from his heart, mind and soul and the song was not taken from anyone or anywhere else. We are reviewing the decision, considering our options and you will hear more from us soon about this matter.”
Thicke and his representatives have not spoken publicly since the verdict was announced.
The jury reached the decision after hearing nearly a week of testimony about similarities between Blurred Lines — the biggest hit of 2013 — and Gaye’s hit.
Thicke and Williams denied copying. Their song earned them more than $5 million apiece.
Although both are credited as its songwriters, Williams wrote the song in about an hour in 2012, and the pair recorded it in one night, according to the testimony.
The verdict could tarnish the legacy of Williams, a reliable hit-maker who has won Grammy Awards and appears on NBC’s music competition show The Voice.
An attorney for Thicke and Williams has said a decision in favor of Gaye’s heirs could have a chilling effect on musicians who try to emulate an era or another artist’s sound.
Williams told jurors that Gaye’s music was part of the soundtrack of his youth, but he denied using any of it to create Blurred Lines.
The Williams, Thicke and T.I camp contended they did nothing wrong in being inspired by Gaye and evoking the feeling of Gaye’s music.
But lawyers for Gaye’s children accused Williams and Thicke of repeatedly changing their stories about how they created Blurred Lines and felt their clients deserved a piece of the millions of dollars the song has made.
Nashville entertainment law attorney Richard Busch said his clients were thrilled with the verdict.
“This is as satisfying or more satisfying than any case I’ve ever had… Winning the Eminem digital download case was obviously a very big deal.”
“I’m sure (Thicke and Williams) probably wondered who this guy from Nashville, Tennessee is, but they know now.”
An accounting statement during the trial, according to The Hollywood Reporter, revealed that there were $16,675,690 in profits for Blurred Lines.
According to testimony, $5,658,214 went to Thicke, $5,153,457 was given to Williams and $704,774 to T.I.
Record companies (Interscope, UMG Distribution and Star Trak) took home the rest, with an executive at Universal Music testifying that overhead costs on the creation of Blurred Lines accounted for $6.9 million.
Add to that a second song, Gaye’s After the Dance, also being disputed, and Busch put damages at $40 million.
Howard King, lead attorney for Williams, Thicke and T.I., told jurors a verdict for the Gaye family would stifle artists and inhibit musicians trying to recreate an era or genre of music.
The two-week trial was entertaining, enlightening and colorful. Thicke sang, played the piano and even danced a little in his seat during his testimony. He also told the federal jury that he was drunk and high on drugs during interviews about the song. Although he is credited with co-writing the mega hit, Thicke said Williams wrote it on his own.
Williams’ testimony hinged on feelings.
“Feel, but not infringement,” Williams said when asked whether he recognized similarities between the songs. “I must’ve been channeling that feeling, that late-’70s feeling.”
“Blurred Lines” was the biggest hit of 2013 and was nominated for a Grammy Award. T.I.’s rap track was added after it was recorded in mid-2012.
[ contributing: The Tennessean’s Nate Rau, and the Associated Press ]